Surrender and responsibility are inseparable attributes essential to every intimate relationship, including the relationship between G‑d and humankind. We regard our relationship with G‑d as a marriage, and apply what we learn from that to our human relationships. We also look at human marriages and apply what we learn from them to our relationship with G‑d.

Jewish tradition describes the day that the commandments were given at Mt. Sinai as a wedding day. Picture it this way:

Mt. Sinai was held over our heads like a wedding canopy.

The Ten Commandments were the marriage contract.

The precious stone on which the commandments were engraved was the wedding ring.

Moses was the matchmaker.

And heaven and earth were our witnesses.

Then G‑d said to us, "Surrender to me totally, but be fully responsible for your morality. Submit to me completely, but remain accountable for your actions." Wasn't that a contradiction in terms? Complete surrender and total submission seem to rule out responsibility and accountability.

We might think that in order to surrender to G‑d and be close to Him, we have to give up our free will and dissolve into Him. Then celibacy seems holy, perennial fasting a great virtue, forswearing material possessions G‑dly. Maybe we should stop being ourselves because "where G‑d is, nothing else can be."

To ourselves we may say, " G‑d knows what He's doing. G‑d gave me this life and I accept it completely. Without a question. I'm surrendered." We then think of ourselves as deeply religious.

To G‑d we may say, "Whatever You want is fine, I am perfectly content, I will not question Your judgment, I will not fight fate. I surrender to whatever Divine Providence has in store for me. Take me, I'm yours."

The problem with this kind of religiosity is that once we have surrendered, we don't see the need to be responsible. That's like a mother who says to her child, "Fine, have it your way, but if it doesn't work out, don't come to me with your complaints. If you mess up, it's your problem, not mine, because we're doing it your way."

There was once a man who refused to pay his debts, so he was brought before the high court and questioned. The man, a mystic in his own mind, scoffed: "Money, what's money? Money is nothing. Life is nothing. It's all nothing."

The court ruled: "This nothing should be stretched out on a nothing, and given thirty nothings on his nothing." The man promptly decided to pay his debt.

Some people feel that the greater the surrender, the less the responsibility. The attitude is, "Whatever problems exist in this world are G‑d's responsibility because I am powerless. I am nothing."

But it's a mistake to think that way. We ought not assume that the way to surrender to G‑d, to merge with and be connected to Him, is to be self-effacing. The marriage at Sinai tells us otherwise.

In describing the mystical event, Scripture tells us that " G‑d came down on the mountain" (Exod. 19:20). Why the emphasis on "coming down"? Because this was going to be a different kind of revelation, unlike any other that ever preceded or followed.

The revelations described elsewhere in the Bible delivered messages, shared information, or gave instructions. They were meant to be communications. When G‑d spoke to Abraham and said, "Your children will be slaves in a foreign land," He was giving important information, but it was not a "coming down" (Gen. 15:13).

When G‑d told Moses, "Speak to Pharaoh, King of Egypt," He was giving an instruction, but it wasn't a "coming down," either (Exod. 6:11). What made the revelation at Sinai so radically different was not that G‑d spoke—He had spoken before—but that He made Himself vulnerable by surrendering to us. That is what is meant by " G‑d came down."

By giving us free will, the outcome of G‑d's "project" —the world—is at our mercy. We may either keep the commandments or not, because He gave us complete freedom of choice. In fact, the ancient biblical commentaries say that the verse: "If you follow my commandments, I will give to you the rains on time" (Lev. 26:3-4), should be understood as: "Please follow my commandments, and I will give you the rains."

In other words, although G‑d trusts, hopes, and depends on us to keep His commandments, to fulfill the purpose for which He created us; the results are up to us. Therefore He is asking us, pleading with us, to be good.

In doing so, He surrenders Himself. He is our Master and Creator, but He makes Himself vulnerable to us. He is our Provider, our Sustainer, our Helper, our Salvation, and our Hope, but He makes Himself dependent upon our free will.

As much as we need Him, He tells us that He needs us; that is, He needs us to keep His commandments. In that sense, G‑d "came down." In that sense, G‑d became totally surrendered. Yet He remains Master of the Universe, totally responsible. Similarly, we remain responsible for our actions even as we surrender to Him.

There was once a saintly rabbi named Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. He lived on the second floor of a building, and his son, Rabbi Dov Ber, lived on the ground floor with his wife and baby. One day Rabbi Dov Ber, who was known to have unusual powers of concentration, was so absorbed in a holy text that he didn't hear the baby fall out of the cradle next to him.

On the floor above, the grandfather, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, heard the baby fall. He came downstairs, picked up the crying child, and comforted him. When the child had quieted, the grandfather placed him back in his cradle, and returned to his study upstairs. Later that day he told Rabbi Dov Ber:

"It's good to be so surrendered to holiness that you don't hear the ring of a bell, or a knock on the door. But you must always hear the cry of a child. What's the point of communion with G‑d, if you neglect to do G‑dly acts in this world?

"No matter how engrossed, no matter how close you feel to G‑d, you must never fail to hear the cry of a child. No matter what kind of holy activity you are engaged in, you must never fail to be concerned for another person."

We must remain accountable for the welfare of our fellow human beings. Even at Sinai, at the moment of our greatest spiritual surrender, the Jews accepted the responsibility to observe the commandments. Surrender to G‑d does not exempt us from responsibility.

In everything we do, as we attempt to attain G‑dliness, as we strive to cleave to G‑d, as we surrender to G‑d, we remain responsible parties in a relationship. That's what is meant by our marriage to G‑d.

So in saying, "surrender to me totally, submit to me completely, but be accountable and responsible for your morality," G‑d was telling us how to be married, because surrender and responsibility are essential to every intimate relationship.

The surrender in a relationship never means a surrender of responsibility, but a surrender of ego and self-satisfaction. Many marriages get into trouble because of the lack of surrender.

Ideally, in a strong traditional marriage, the husband surrenders to the wife and the wife surrenders to the husband. No less and no differently. As responsible as the wife feels for the husband, the husband feels for the wife.

The loving grandfather of old was comfortable with whatever craziness, whims, or idiosyncrasies the grandmother had. He had surrendered to her and at the same time felt responsible for her. If she developed a physical infirmity, he never had a word of complaint or resentment. He wasn't heard to say, "What do I need this for? What did I get myself into?" In that kind of relationship, the acceptance of and submission to each other was unconditional, yet neither spouse was self-effacing.

She was good at her job and he at his. They may have communicated on different levels, but in terms of surrender and responsibility, husband and wife were equals. I once knew an elderly couple whose marriage seemed to be terrible, but their relationship was a perfect example of this.

This couple had gone through World War II in Europe, and they were still going through it. For them, the war never ended. The after-effects had shattered their nerves forever. Not only could they not forget the war, they carried it on between them.

She described him as a monster, which was strong language for her to use. They were in their seventies when she decided to leave him. With great courage and self-assertion, she got herself an apartment and moved out. It wasn't an easy decision to come to, but she did it and she loved it.

All of a sudden, my wife and I got a call from her that she had moved back to the house. "What happened?" we asked.

My husband is very ill," she replied.

"So? What do you mean, `your husband'? You moved out. He's a monster. You left him."

"But he's sick. He needs me."

The man died soon after. "You know," she said when we went to visit her, "I can't remember the bad parts, only the good parts. There were bad times, weren't there? He was a monster, wasn't he? I can't remember."

Her surrender and her responsibility were total. Underneath the fighting, criticizing, cursing, and screaming, their marriage retained two vital ingredients: the combination of total surrender and profound responsibility absolutely crucial to a relationship.

She thought, "If he needs me, then never mind that I have an apartment that I'm paying for. Never mind that it took me years to work up the courage to leave. Never mind that I enjoy being by myself. He needs me." Total surrender and total responsibility.

Surrender and responsibility, to G‑d as well as in marriage, were the threads that held the Jewish people together, and enabled them emotionally and mentally to survive the darkest periods of their history.

They were the strengths that allowed them to come out the other end, rebuild their lives, raise children, and remain moral and decent human beings.

Total surrender and total responsibility. If we want those strengths for ourselves, we must surrender completely and, at the same time, remain responsible to our relationships.